Chakotay is going to kill me, he thought, as he once again picked up his giggling captain. Tom tried to steady Janeway as they walked down the street, but she wasn’t entirely capable of walking in straight line, much less holding herself up. Her arm was slung over his shoulder, behind his neck, and he was desperately working to keep her upright by holding onto her waist.
“You can’t out drink the Irish!” she declared rather loudly and he winced at the stench of alcohol that wafted over him. “I warned him. Told him that I came from the finest stock on Earth. Didn’t listen, did he?”
Tom didn’t bother answering. The ambassador had been a gambling man and had challenged Captain Janeway to a drinking game. She had diplomatically declined, naturally, but the ambassador had been persistent, to the point of even offering to lower the price that Voyager had to pay for the various goods for which they’d negotiated. That had pricked Janeway’s ear, but she continued to demur. She was a Starfleet officer, after all, and she held her position until he offered to cut the price by half if she beat him. If she lost, well, he simply asked for her company at dinner the next evening.
Her acceptance had only just been uttered when drinks started being poured and people gathered around, shouting and cheering. There had been no chance to contact Chakotay or notify Tuvok, which had to have broken at least three regulations. After all was said and done, however, Janeway had prevailed and Tom was now the unwitting chaperone of a thoroughly soused captain.
“I won!” she shouted and threw out her arm, causing Tom to stumble slightly.
“Captain, please,” he shushed, giving an apologetic nod to a passerby. Thankfully a bench was only a few meters away and he guided her over to it. “We wouldn’t want to get in trouble with the natives for being disruptive.”
She furrowed her brow. “Disruptive? I’ll have you know, Lieutenant, that I am the captain. I can be disruptive if I so desire,” she retorted. Suddenly she got that look on her face, one Tom had seen too many times and in too many taverns. He quickly rotated her away from him so that when she began to vomit, it wasn’t on his shoes. He pat her back as she emptied the contents of her stomach and she groaned. “Mr. Paris?” she managed through several coughs.
“Do people really do this for recreation?” she moaned.
“Well, it affects everyone differently, but, yes, people do sometimes overindulge as a form of recreation. Not that it’s recommended,” he answered. “It’ll pass, you just need to sleep it off.”
“Now that you mention it, I do feel exhausted,” she agreed, slouching against his arm. “What I wouldn’t give for a soft pillow and a warm blanket. My mother had these huge quilts and I would just lose myself in them, snuggled up with a good book. I had one packed up with my things that I was going to collect after we returned from the Badlands. Chakotay offered to make me one when we were stranded on New Earth. Did you know that he knew how to sew?”
He smiled to himself. B’Elanna often teased him for being a bit of a gossip and he had to admit that he enjoyed having knowledge no one else knew about. Living life on the edge meant always needing an advantage. He wasn’t sure Chakotay’s domestic skills counted as tactical information, but it might make for a good joke at the right time. “No, I had no idea,” he replied.
“He also gives damn fine back rubs too.” Janeway yawned and nuzzled further into his side.
“Maybe I’ll ask him for one next time I’m stuck doing a double shift on the bridge.”
She chuckled. “Can’t have you falling asleep at the helm, Tom. He’s very talented with his hands, though. They’re strong, firm…I think I would sleep better if…”
Tom cleared his throat. Humorous insights were one thing, but this was moving into territory he didn’t feel comfortable being in. If this had been their first year in the Delta Quadrant, he might have prodded more, but he was different now. They all were. “Maybe I should get you back up to Voyager.”
“Can I tell you a secret, Mr. Paris?” she whispered, ignoring his offer. He wanted to say no, not because he didn’t want to hear her words, but because it seemed wrong to hear her innermost thoughts when she probably wouldn’t even remember sharing them. His hesitation, however, was the all the opening she needed. “Sometimes I don’t know that I can do it. Get us home. Chakotay’s accused me of being too single minded, but I’m scared that if I’m not, I’ll fail and I won’t be able to atone for my sins.”
He swallowed hard. Her tone was weighted with a grief that he had never seen manifested in her. He wanted to say something, anything, but in that moment, he felt as lost as her. What could possibly be said to assuage a secret that heady? Just as he was about to tell her that she had nothing for which to atone, he found that she’d closed her eyes and her breathing had gone even with a slight snore.
He stayed for a few minutes, lingering and vainly searching the night sky. The city lights were too bright to see the alien stars and it made everything feel wrong somehow. A chill went through him and he shuddered. Finally, Tom gently shook her and urged her to a standing position. Janeway murmured in protest as he propped her up, but she complied with his sure movements. He tapped his comm badge. “Two to beam up.”
He was relieved to find no one but Ensign Brooks in the transporter room and the corridors were mostly empty as he escorted the captain back to her quarters. The doors opened upon sensing them, and he managed to get her to her bedroom where she instinctively crawled up and put her head on her pillow. Tom waited for a moment, taking one last chance to see her in a way he knew most of the crew never would. He wished he had one of her mother’s quilts to cover her with, she looked so…cold. He settled for a Starfleet issued iridescent blanket that he loosely arranged around her shoulders.
“I absolve you of your sins,” he declared softly and suddenly, his timbre wavering as he spoke. Tom couldn’t give an account for what had inspired him to give such a blessing, but he felt glad that he’d said it. He left her and headed towards the exit. His feet had nearly crossed the threshold when a rustling caught his attention.
“Thank you.” The words were barely audible to the point that he wasn’t entirely certain he’d heard them. He peered back towards his captain, but she was facing away from him, her body already rising and falling in the steady rhythm of slumber.